By the Waters of Babylon Questions and Answers
by Stephen Vincent Benét

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What are John's special differences?

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John explains how he is "special" in the very beginning of the story.  

First, John is the son of a priest.  By itself that is meaningless.  John has brothers, and they are not special.  But being the son of a priest means that John has the potential to be greater than other members of his society.

In the second and third paragraphs, John tells his readers that he went with his father to one of the Dead Places.  John was scared, but did not flee.  Next, his dad came out with a piece of metal.  People are not supposed to touch metal from the Dead Places, but John's dad hands him the metal.  John takes the piece of metal and does not die.  Now John can become a full priest.  

He gave me the metal to hold—I took it and did not die. So he knew that I was truly his son and would be a priest in my time.

So John's special difference is that he is the son of a priest and didn't die when he touched metal.

Once he begins priestly training, John is granted special privileges.  He is allowed to visit the Dead Places.  He is taught to read and write.  He gets the best food and the best sleeping spots closest to the fire.  

After that, they gave me the good piece of meat and the warm corner of the fire.

John is also taught basic first aid techniques, which members of his society think are special and magic.  

I was taught the chants and the spells—l was taught how to stop the running of blood from a wound and many secrets. A priest must know many secrets—that was what my father said. If the hunters think we do all things by chants and spells, they may believe so—it does not hurt them.

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